The experience of watching Mondovino is like sitting down with some friends over a bottle of wine. There is a lot of interesting conversation, and the topics go all over the place. Sometimes the topics are less interesting than others, but once the alcohol begins flowing, everything becomes a lot more enjoyable. Mondovino has the good fortune of coming out after Sideways, which really piqued interest in wine, so if adventurous people are willing to venture to the art house, here's a companion film by Jonathan Nossiter (Signs and Wonders, Sunday), an easygoing wine-lover who speaks English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese fluently at various points in the film. He travels the world, from France and Italy, to the Napa Valley and Argentina and Brazil to talk to wine growers, marketers, and wine journalists. There isn't really a point per se, and Nossiter tends to go off on random tangents and switch gears before answering questions, but Mondovino is still a nice broad look at the world of wine.

Nossiter gains access to the upper echelons of the wine world, where everybody seems to know and like each other. The Mondavis, marketing sensation Michel Rolland, and tastemaker Robert Parker all chat about lots of topics including the state of business today, where the industry is going, and failed ventures (most notably on the Mondavi front) to get a foothold in France. He also wanders around some smaller vineyards, talking to their owners for their opinions. Rolland is the most forceful personality. People hire him to market their wines, and he is an extremely influential figure. He gives suggestions on how to improve wine (most of the suggestions here are to "micro-oxygenate") and he has clients across the world. He is good friends with Parker, the most influential wine critic in the country. Parker's opinions and ratings can make or break a wine.

On the flip side of these people are an importer from New York and Hubert de Montille, who owns a small vineyard in France. They despise what Rolland and Parker are doing, which in their opinion is making everything blander. Local wines with different tastes are rated low, so people do not buy them. Wine is now an industry, where some are publicly traded companies, beholden to the stockholder. This means that keeping the stock price high is the primary goal. As a result, some winemakers will change their wines in order to make them more appealing to Rolland and Parker. So everything is beginning to taste the same.

Which brings the film to the inevitable topic of globalization, the bane of many, especially in France. When Mondavi tried to buy some acreage in France, the locals rebelled, ousted their mayor and pushed out the company, which eventually went to Italy (working with a family that made wine for nearly a millennium!). Yet, when Nossiter asks one local grower how the Mondavis were any different from Gerard Depardieu, who was doing the same thing, he gave a pretty inadequate reply. Aside from some of the criticisms leveled on Parker and Rolland, Nossiter, and their influences on the globalization of the wine industry, Nossiter doesn't really touch on this issue. He prefers to walk around, talking to local growers (one man in South America bottles wine although he makes no money) to get a flavor for what they do. The one truly bad element in Mondovino is the camerawork. Nossiter travels with a hand-held camera that does not stay still, causing lots of headache inducing moments for the duration of the film.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 15 minutes, French, English, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese with English subtitles, Rated PG-13 for brief pin-up nudity.

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